It was a frustrating first few months for the Anaheim Ducks, and Saku Koivu
was among the most frustrated.
|"Saku has it all," said Sexton of Koivu. "He is so smart and such a great player. He is always letting me know what I need to do.” |
The 35-year-old knew it would be an adjustment making his highly anticipated arrival in Anaheim after 13 seasons as a Montreal Canadien. And in the early going, he wasn’t putting up the numbers he had proven capable of producing. Through 24 games played, he had just three goals, eight assists and a minus-three rating.
“There was skepticism that Saku was not getting the job done offensively for our hockey club early,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. “Statistic-wise, he probably wasn’t. But his drive to compete and leadership qualities inside of our team were huge. We felt that if he continued to battle it would come.”
And oh did the offense come for Koivu and in a major way.
Beginning with a three-point night on Dec. 8 against the Stars (which included the game-winner in overtime), he has strung together seven goals, 10 assists and a plus-11 rating in his last 17 games. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Ducks, as they try to fight their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
“Absolutely, there was an adjustment period,” said Koivu, who will play in his fourth Olympics for Finland this February. “I knew I was going to need some practice and games to really feel comfortable and try to get chemistry going with my teammates. The unfortunate thing was that we weren’t winning as a team early on. Lately, we’ve played as a team and I have played better as an individual.”
|“I knew I was going to need some practice and games to really feel comfortable and try to get chemistry going with my teammates," Koivu said. "Lately, we’ve played as a team and I have played better as an individual.” |
He has enjoyed the uptick in production while being flanked on a line by 22-year-old wingers Bobby Ryan
and Dan Sexton
. The grouping came together after Teemu Selanne
went down for 17 games with a broken bone in his left hand at Dallas on Dec. 3. “The amazing thing that happened was when Selanne got hurt and Sexton went into the lineup, that seemed to be the turning point,” Carlyle said.
That trio has been able to give Anaheim the second scoring line it has so desperately sought for more than two seasons to go along with the top line featuring Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
. The grouping has managed to stay intact even as the Finnish Flash returned to the lineup on Saturday. They’ve shown no signs of letting up, playing a big role in the team’s current four-game winning streak, led by Koivu (two goals, three assists, plus-seven rating during the stretch).
“We’ve had games where I feel like we’ve played 80 percent of the game in their end forechecking or working around the offensive zone,” Sexton said. When we’re doing that, we’re pretty effective. I try to read off those guys. Saku has it all. He is so smart and such a great player. He is always letting me know what I need to do.”
With Koivu possessing a skill set that complements his so well, Ryan knew early on it would only be a matter of time before the two would come together on a line.
“The chemistry was going to find us,” Ryan said. “We didn’t have to look too much.”
Their effectiveness showed in one of their nicest plays yet in a big 3-1 win at league-leading Chicago on Sunday. In the first period at United Center, with the Ducks already narrowly in front 1-0, Ryan beautifully orchestrated a slap pass in front of the net to Koivu, who redirected it past Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi. The goal went on to be the game-winner, Koivu’s third of the season (all coming in the last 17 games).
|“The chemistry was going to find us,” Ryan said. “We didn’t have to look too much.” |
“Koivu and I saw it coming,” Ryan said. “Saku has always been a passer and I certainly don’t mind shooting the puck. We were able to get right in there, figure out what to do and make room for each other.”
Even as his second line center’s statistics continue to rise, Carlyle admires the fortitude Koivu displayed when he was still trying to get used to his surroundings and things weren’t going as well.
“He never wavered in his commitment and work ethic in any of the situations that he was put in,” Carlyle said. “To me, that was most important. When you have a player like that, who goes out, puts it on the line night in and night out and helps hold other people accountable to their work ethic, it’s nothing but a positive for your group.”